ESCORIAL, MADRID

   During the Renaissance, the Spanish King Philip II not only governed much of the Iberian Peninsula but also parts of the Italic Peninsula, including Milan and Naples, as well as the Netherlands and colonies in the Americas. As the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Philip II held vast power across Europe during the Protestant Reformation and therefore desired a palace complex that demonstrated a balance between the wealth of Spain and its piety. During his extensive reign (1556-1598), he was preoccupied with the expansion of Spanish interests in the Americas and the Netherlands, but in 1588, he lost his legendary Spanish Armada to his great rival, Queen Elizabeth of England. Nonetheless, the Spanish Crown had profited greatly from its colonial rule, and that wealth helped to establish Philip II's extensive art collection as well as to construct his palace about 28 miles outside of Madrid. Called the Escorial, it was not only a palace with administrative buildings, but also a monastery and a funerary complex to be used as a royal mausoleum for Spanish kings. It was built in a small town known for its iron foundry and was named Escoria after the iron slag deposits that were used in this region for a variety of products. Although forested, this region of Spain was less lush than other areas of the Iberian Peninsula, and thus the surrounding landscape as well as the local grey granite used to construct the Escorial lent an austere character to the complex.
   The major Spanish Renaissance architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, was working in Rome at the time; from 1546 to 1548 he had been Michelangelo's main advisor in the construction of Saint Peter's Church. In 1559, Philip called him back to Madrid to complete the Escorial. While in Rome, Toledo was obviously steeped in the classicism of Donato Bramante and the Vitruvian principles so popular in Italian architecture at the time, for the Escorial reveals a classical balance and symmetry as well as architectural details. The Escorial's royal monastery of San Lorenzo includes a library, a school for the education of noble children, and a church with a crypt for royal burials, all built in white stone. Shortly after the death of Juan de Toledo, Juan de Herrera was hired to continue with the project. His plans included the enlargement of the entire complex by adding a second story to the wings and by creating a grander entrance with the addition of a large classical portico superimposed onto the front of the complex. Since Juan de Herrera had been de Toledo's apprentice and was also known as a humanist and mathematician, his work at the Escorial came to epitomize the introduction of Italian Renaissance classicism into Spain.
   The complex is constructed in one vast square, with four-story outer walls that feature square towers in each of the four corners. The windows that line each of the four stories are lacking in any applied architectural decoration and therefore give the appearance of a some-what fortified structure. Along the entrance wall, however, the front of the complex features a tall classical portico in the center, while two smaller porticoes appear equally spaced along the sides of the entrance wall, which then ends in each corner by the towers. The only part of the building that issues from the otherwise uniformly flat wall is the central portico, in which a two-story temple front is articulated with eight half-columns engaged to the wall and four on either side of the square doorway. Between the columns are three vertical rows of square windows, all of which are capped with an entablature of triglyphs and metopes, in keeping with the more austere Doric order used for the first column order. Then, a second register rises up through the center, with four Ionic columns, two on either side of sculptured niches above the central doorway. This entire aedicule is topped by a triangular pediment. Although the entire design recalls Bramante's more rigidly Vitruvian interpretation of classical architecture, it is not a strict copy of Bramante's principles. Instead, the façade portico, which rises in front of a mansard-styled roof, also has short, obelisk-shaped caps above the outer four columns at the lower register, which are then topped by balls.
   The internal buildings of the complex are aligned on a grid pattern and dominated by the centrally located San Lorenzo, a Latin-cross-plan church that features two bell towers in the front to frame a view of the large dome, which in its size recalls the dome of Saint Peter's Church. Inside, the high altar is the most lavish part of the entire complex, with screens made of red granite and jasper, surrounded by gilded bronze sculptures, including kneeling figures of Charles I and Philip II. The library is equally beautiful, with wooden armoires lining the walls of long corridors that feature painted barrel-vaulted ceilings. The royal apartments, in contrast, are spare, with windows over-looking the basilica. The Pantheon, which is the mausoleum, features 26 marble funerary monuments to members of the royal family. Philip II's parents, Charles I and Isabella of Portugal, are buried there. The Escorial can be understood as Philip's demonstration of a more austere Catholic faith, cultivated in response to the growing Protestantism that was taking hold in the Netherlands and moving into Spain.
   The entire project was completed in 1584, although subsequent rulers added more buildings to the surrounding area of the complex, including a summer palace and a theater. During the reign of Philip II, a hunting lodge was also constructed about three miles away from the Escorial. Called La Granjilla de la Fresneda, this smaller complex, built from 1561 to 1569, consisted of a lodge, a small chapel, and monastic buildings, as well as the gardens of the king. Today, the Escorial and its surrounding community display some of the most important Renaissance monuments in all of Spain.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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